In 1918, public health in Washington State was in crisis. A worldwide flu epidemic had taken more American lives than the war and infirmaries had been set up in Clark Hall and Lewis Hall at the University of Washington.

The Washington TB Association asked the UW to offer public health courses for registered nurses to help alleviate the crisis. These courses became the first public health education courses in the Northwest to include fieldwork, which was directed by Elizabeth Sterling Soule. The UW was among the first universities in the nation to be accredited by the National Organization of Public Health Nurses.

About Elizabeth Sterling Soule

Elizabeth Sterling Soule

Elizabeth Sterling Soule

Soule was the daughter of a Boston physician who grew up observing the disabling effects of poor living and working conditions on health. After graduating from nursing school, she was trained in public health nursing and became the first visiting nurse in Everett, Mass.

In 1912, when she moved to Seattle as a newlywed, Soule was the only nurse in the state with field training. Two years later, she organized the Washington State Public Health Nursing Association to deal more effectively with epidemic outbreaks of typhoid and tuberculosis. Her contributions to public health led to later appointments as the first state supervisor of nurses for the Washington TB Association and the Red Cross.

Washington had been among the first states to grant women suffrage in 1910 and, by 1913, women’s charitable organizations were demanding more opportunities for the larger number of girls completing high school. At the time, nurses were educated in apprenticeship programs in area hospitals. Graduates of these programs were often the only source of health care in rural areas.

After she began overseeing the fieldwork for UW’s public health nursing courses, Soule went on to organize a continuing education conference for county nurses at the UW. In 1920, she was asked to be the first state supervisor of public health nursing in the newly founded state health department.

Department of Nursing

first nursing students

First nursing students

The following year, UW President Henry Suzzallo asked her to bring her organizational talents to a new Department of Nursing, and under her direction the department became one of the first in the country accredited in public health nursing.

The department began offering a bachelor of science in nursing degree in 1923.

Soule received the first of two degrees from the UW in 1926 and decided to dedicate herself to nursing education rather than public health nursing.

Under her guidance, local hospitals were encouraged to send their diploma school students to the UW for additional coursework. She also instituted a UW training program for staff at the state’s mental health hospitals and tuberculosis sanitarium, greatly improving patient care.

A county public health clinic in Ballard was created with the cooperation of county officials for health care and student education. Most notably, Soule worked closely with King County council members to provide collegiate nursing education at the new Harborview Hospital, an arrangement that had only been done once before in the country, at Yale University.

A new nursing major

The School of Nursing became an independent school within the UW health sciences department in 1945. It was the first nursing school on the West Coast to offer a baccalaureate program and only the second university-affiliated nursing school in the U.S. Soule was the first dean.

The four-year integrated nursing major, which Soule developed, was the first of its kind at a state university and became the national standard for nursing education.

When Soule retired in 1950, Time magazine called her the “Mother of Nursing in the Pacific Northwest.” Soule was inducted into the National Nursing Hall of Fame and the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame posthumously in 1986.

The UW School of Nursing has been a top-ranked school in the nation since 1984, when the first national survey of nursing schools was conducted. It consistently ranks in the top three recipients for nursing research grants.

Pioneers in nursing research and education

Learn more about our history and the pioneering spirit that has been creating a world of good for almost a century: